Moss Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Moss Meaning
There have been two principal origins of the Moss surname, one English and the other Jewish.  The English version came from the Old English word mos, meaning “bog” or “morass,” and would describe someone who lived by a bog or morass.  The Jewish form was from Moses, the Jewish leader who led the Israelites out of Egypt.  Moses often became Moss in England and America as a less identifiable Jewish name. 
Select Moss Resources on The Internet

Moss Ancestry

English version of the Moss surname seems centered around Lancashire
and the northwest, the Jewish version around London and the southeast.

Lancashire.  The Moss surname has
continued to be found in
areas where mosses or peat bogs have
existed.  Thus the largest number of
Mosses in the 1881 census was in Ashton under Lyne, close
by Ashton Moss. Manchester and Salford
were also well represented in bogs and in names.

From Manchester came the Rev. William Moss,
born there in 1571 and father of one of the early settlers of the New
Haven colony
in America, and Edward (Ted) Moss, born there in 1852 and the theater
impresario who founded Moss Empires.

A Moss line on Merseyside began with John Moss of Hurst House, born
around 1717.  His son Thomas moved to Liverpool where he operated
as a timber merchant on the Salthouse dock, bringing in his son John as
a partner in 1803.  John Moss was to make his fortune as a banker
and Caribbean plantation owner.  He built a fine new house for
himself, Otterpool
, along the Otterpool creek in 1812.

Moss peat bogs and Moss name extended southward into
Staffordshire and eastward into Yorkshire.
The Moss name featured among the
potters of Stoke-on-Trent
in the late 18th and early 19th


Perhaps the first to arrive was Samuel Moses from Alsace in France who
was probably in London sometime in the 1780’s.
His son Jacob had children who emigrated to Australia and Canada
in the
1840’s and 1850’s, generally as Moss, and were instrumental in the
formation of
Jewish congregations in Sydney and Montreal.

Of those who stayed in London was Moses
Moss who started what
became the Moss Bros clothing chain with his two shops in London’s
Garden in 1851.  After Moses’s death in
1894 Moss Bros remained in family hands through his sons Alfred and
George.  George’s son Harry followed Alfred as the next “Guvnor;”
while other family
members were on the company board.

Another Moss family began in Whitechapel in
the East End of London in the mid-19th century with Nathan Moses and
then with Abraham
Moss who married outside his faith.
Abraham’s son Alfred was a successful dentist in London and a
racing driver.  Alfred’s son Stirling Moss,
who got bullied at school for being Jewish, grew up to be the famous
racing driver;
while his sister Pat achieved her own fame as one of the most
successful women
rally drivers of all time.

Other noted Jewish families in the 19th century were
the Moss family of Portsea in Hampshire, headed by Joseph Moss a glass
merchant, and the Moss family in Stepney and Bermondsey, bootmakers and

or Mosse is an Ulster name, mainly found in
Tyrone and along the Tyrone-Donegal border.
If Irish, the name probably originates from the Gaelic Maolmona, where the suffix –mona is
thought to have derived from moin meaning “peat bog.”

America.  John Moss was one of the
early settlers of
the New Haven colony, arriving there on the Hector
in 1637. His origins are uncertain.
Some sources have him coming from Lancashire,
others from Berkshire.  He died in
Wallingford, Connecticut in 1707 apparently at the great age of 103.

The line
from his grandson John claims Clint Eastwood as a descendant, from
grandson Benjamin Charles William Post and Dina Merriill as descendants.  Sometime in the 1800’s the surname spelling
changed from Moss to Morse, although some lines remained Moss.

Virginia and the South.  Edward Moss from Lancashire appears to have
been the progenitor of an early Moss family in York county, Virginia
dating back
to the 1640’s and possibly earlier.  John
Moss of this line fought in the Revolutionary War and was a farmer in
, as were his sons William and Thomas.

Another Moss line was that beginning with John
Moss who was born in Goochland county, Virginia in 1707.  After
the Revolutionary
War some stayed in Virginia, others moved to the
Carolinas, while
the line from Nathaniel Moss headed further south and eventually made
its home around
1812 in Louisiana.

Georgia has a relatively large Moss population today.
The earliest arrival might well have been Joseph
Moss from Yorkshire who was in Clarke county by 1803 and married Sophia
there ten years later.

Then there was a Virginia line that passed through
Kentucky and settled in Paris, Missouri.
Preston B. Moss headed west from there to Billings, Montana in
where he built himself an extravagant red-stoned mansion.
It served as the family home until 1984.  It
has the reputation of being haunted.

Jewish.  John Moss from London
immigrated to
Philadelphia in the 1790’s and was one of its early merchants.  His grandson Lucien, born in 1831, is
for his philanthropy and for the scrapbooks he left behind describing
life in America.

Canada.  An exodus of fishermen from
Dorset to
Newfoundland in the 1780’s included two Moss brothers, William and
John, from
Corfe Castle.  They settled initially in
Keels and Open Hall near Bonavista Bay before spreading across
Newfoundland.  Their story was covered in
Malcolm Moss’s
2014 book The Mosses of Bonavista Bay and

St. Helena.  The remote
Atlantic island of St. Helena was an unlikely setting for a
Jewish Moss family from London. George
Moss had come to work for the Jewish entrepreneur Saul Solomon who had
on the island by accident in 1790.  Moss
lived for more than forty years at Longwood House which had been
first home of exile there.  Many of his
descendants emigrated to New Zealand in the 1850’s and 1860’s.  Frederick Moss prospered as a businessman in

Australia and New Zealand.
Down Under attracted other Jewish Moss
settlers as well.  Joseph Moss had left
London via Australia for New Zealand in the early 1860’s where he was a
teacher and choirmaster in Dunedin. His
son Matthew returned to Australia, in this case to Western Australia,
became a cabinet minister there in the early 1900’s.

A much later arrival was the Auschwitz survivor Sam Moss who came to
Australia in 1948 and launched the successful Katies fashion stores in
1950’s.  He died in 2016 at the ripe old
of ninety.

Of course there were other Moss settlers in Australia who were not
Jewish.  Two families who came to
Melbourne in the mid-19th century were:

  • Thomas
    Moss and his wife Mary who left
    Manchester on an assisted bounty program in 1841.  Their
    voyage on the Frankfield to Australia was a lengthy
    one as it went via Rio de
  • and
    a Moss family from Surrey who departed for Australia in stages in
    the 1850’s.  The first to leave were the
    Rev. William Moss, a Congregational minister, and his sister Anne Moss
    who met her future husband on


Moss Miscellany

The Moss or Peat Bog in Lancashire.  The term
moss for peat bog is widely used in Lancashire.

There was once a great moss that
extended widely within the parishes of Manchester and Salford in the
century, leaving its name to the Moss Side township that was later
into Manchester.  Then Salford has had its
own bog named Chat Moss which comprised about 30% of the town.  Ashton Moss was a 250 acre peat bog within
the vicinity of the present market town of Ashton under Lyne.  And Page Moss lay near Huyton on
Merseyside.  Meanwhile Lindow Moss was the main recorded
peat bog in Cheshire. The peat bogs of
Lancashire and neighboring Cheshire have been fast disappearing.  The Lancashire Wildlife Trust has been
seeking to preserve many of the remaining mosses in the region.

John Moss of Otterspool House.  John Moss
built a new house, Otterspool House, along Ottterspool creek on
Merseyside in
1812 and that was to be his home for the remaining twenty five years of

Liverpool was a boom town at that
time because of the slave trade and John Moss was part of that boom.  He was first and foremost a banker to the
trade.  He also owned up to 1,000 slaves
in the Caribbean.  Here he had to
react quickly to the
mounting anti-slavery legislation which eventually brought about
in 1833.  He and another slaver John
Gladstone shipped in paid workers all the way from India to their West
sugar plantations, a controversial act at the time which helped to
solve their
labor problems.

He was also said to have
been a railway pioneer.  That is not
strictly true.  But prior
to the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, it is believed
George Stephenson, the engineer of the Rocket,
stayed at Moss’s Otterspool House and constructed a trial model of the
passenger railway in the world there.

recent discovery of 312 of his letters, unseen for over 150 years, has
new light to be shed on his life.  His
story was told in Graham Trust’s 2010 book John Moss of

he died in 1837, two of his sons, Thomas and Gilbert, continued the
business.  In 1864 that bank became the
joint stock company, North Western Bank.
Another son John entered the ministry; while a fourth son,
founded the Moss Line shipping company of Liverpool.
Thomas subsequently married
the heiress Amy Edwards of Roby Hall in Huyton, which he made his home.  He became a baronet under the name of

Otterspool House fell into
disrepair in the early 1900’s and was no longer occupied by the Moss
family.  A renter William Cross started a
small zoo in its grounds in 1914.  Liverpool
Corporation subsequently acquired the site. Otterspool
House was demolished in 1931 and the area is now the
Otterspool Park and Promenade.

Moss Potters in Stoke-on-Trent.  One concentration of Staffordshire potters in Stoke-on-Trent was along Red Street in Wolstanton.  The Moss family was the
last in Red Street to make crockery, but abandoned
it about 1845 for bricks and tiles which they had been making from the

Thomas and Henshall Moss were listed in 1796 as manufacturers of
earthenware, bricks and tiles.  Henshall
Moss also kept the Wheat Sheaf in Red
Street.  He died in 1833 at the age of
78.   Meanwhile Richard Moss made
earthenware and Egyptian black at Red Street where he also kept the Crown Inn.  He died in 1847 at the age of
64. And Edward Moss was a maltster on Red Street in 1863.

This combination of Moss potter and publican
was found elsewhere in Stoke.  Joseph
Moss was recorded as a potter on Newport Lane in Stoke in 1818.  He was also listed as the keeper of the White Swan at the same location.

The Jewish Transition from Moses to Moss in England.  Charles Bardsley in his 1896 A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames made the following remarks about Jews in England adopting the Moss surname.

is curious to find that the modern practice,
whereby Jews settling in England change their surname from Moses into
supported by the fact that six centuries ago Moss was the English
nickname of

The Moses families were often Jews of Russian
origin who had come to Britain during one of the pogroms against the
Jews.  Early details were often vague.  Sometimes birth records were falsified to
make it seem that the immigrants were in fact born in Britain.

The change from Moses to
Moss made the name fit in more in the English context.
Thus Moses Moses adopted the Moss name when
he started his clothing store business in Covent Garden (now known as
Bros) in 1851.

Some did and some didn’t change their names.  Jacob
Moses of London had four sons – Samuel,
Moses, Lawrence and David – born in the 1820’s.
Samuel, who emigrated to Tasmania and then returned to London,
Moses. But Moses who went to Australia
became Moss; as did Lawrence and David in Canada.

The Moss Farmers in Fairfax County, Virginia.  John Moss was a tobacco farmer in Fairfax county,
Virginia at the time of the Revolutionary War.
After the war he was a
Commissioner of the Land Tax and also served
as a justice of the county court.  He
built his Green Spring farmhouse at that time, which was to stay with
family until 1840.

the 1790’s farmers like Moss were no longer growing
tobacco. Moss had converted to grass cultivation as tobacco was no
economically feasible.  It depleted the
and had limited markets, while grains had become in high demand during
Napoleonic Wars. Tobacco was also a labor-intensive crop and required
slaves.  By getting out of tobacco, John
Moss was in a position to liberate his slaves which he apparently did
in 1795.

John’s death in 1810, the farm passed to his elder son William and
later to
a younger son Thomas.   Both William
Thomas served as clerk of the circuit court in Fairfax county.

farmers were
leaving Fairfax county at this time and moving to Kentucky and Ohio
where they
saw better farming opportunities.  It
appears that the Moss brothers wished to make the move too as the Green
farm was advertised for sale.  They did not
move.  The farm was only sold in 1840
after Thomas’s death.   William Moss
the next generation became a doctor instead.
He fought and died in the Civil War.
Other descendants made their home in West Virginia. 

Anne Moss and Her Voyage to Australia in 1850.  In
her family recollections, Sarah Ann Moss wrote much later:

must have been early
in the year 1850 that my Uncle William and his sister
Aunt Anne left England for Australia.  As
this happened before I was born I must fall back on what I was told.

occupied six months in a sailing vessel.
I believe it was a beautiful but very monotonous voyage. However, the little God Cupid was busy even
in those days.  A good-looking and what
is of far more value a good young man (a medical student I believe)
fell in
love with my aunt and wooed and won her in due course. He
used to write long letters to my
grandmother in England extolling the virtues of his dear Annie.  His love and admiration did not cease on the
wedding day for he continued to be her lover until the day of his

years after she arrived in Melbourne, Annie married this young man,
John Dunne,
at the local Congregational Church.


Moss Names

  • Moses Moss started what became the
    Moss Bros clothing chain with his first two shops in London’s Covent Garden in 1851. 
  • Ted Moss was a British impresario who
    founded the Moss Empires theater combine in 1900.  Moss
    Empires grew to be the largest variety theatre group in Britain and possibly at one time in the world. 
  • Stirling Moss was a British racing driver who was either second or third in the
    F1 championship each year between 1955 and 1961. 
  • Kate Moss is an English supermodel first discovered
    at the young age of fourteen in Croydon in 1988

Select Moss Numbers Today

  • 34,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in Georgia)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Moss and Like Surnames

These names are locational, describing someone who lived in those medieval times by the side of a bank, or by a barn or a lane or a shaw (which means a wood) or a wood and so forth.  Both the oak tree and the ash tree have in fact provided locational surnames – Oakes and Nash (from atten Ash).  Here are some of these locational surnames that you can check out.






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